A story on Game 2 of the Western Conference final, with thanks from Portland freelancer Scott Sepich and Paul Buker of The Oregonian . . .
PORTLAND — The Kamloops Blazers scored one goal in the first two games of the WHL’s Western Conference final.
It should come as no surprise, then, that they are trailing the Portland Winterhawks 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Kamloops on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
“We need to score,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said after Portland’s 4-0 victory on Saturday night. “We need to generate some offence so we can take the lead and reverse the roles as far as playing catch-up hockey.
“We did that in the first game, taking the one-goal lead. But we know with their offence it's not going to be easy to sustain just a one-goal lead to win a hockey game.”
Goaltender Mac Carruth stopped 27 shots and forward Ty Rattie had a goal and two assists in Portland’s Game 2 victory.
Rattie also had a goal and two assists in Friday’s 4-1 victory and now leads the WHL’s playoff scoring race with 25 points, four more than Blazers forward JC Lipon, who is pointless through two games.
The Blazers scored on their first shot in Game 1 — forward Joe Kornelsen getting his first goal in these playoffs — but now have gone 117:50 without beating Carruth, who has stopped 60 shots over two games.
Charron admitted that Carruth’s value to the Winterhawks comes from more than just stopping pucks.
“Carruth is becoming too effective for them,” Charron explained. “Part of the game plan is to make their defencemen work, and forecheck and finish our checks. But our dump-ins are always handled by Carruth and he has that ability to handle the puck and use his body as a screen. We really can't forecheck aggressively against that.”
Kamloops forward Brendan Ranford lit up the Kelowna Rockets for nine points in a four-game second-round sweep, but has yet to get even a point against Portland. He credits Carruth for at least some of that lack of success.
“Mac's been playing really well,” Ranford said. “He's battling hard. We have gotten our chances, and I feel he's been a little bit lucky. He's made some saves that not too many goalies can make. He's working hard and playing well and we have to get to him and get in the crease to score tough goals.”
“Whatever we're doing now isn't working in our favour,” Charron added, “and we have to make some changes and get some confidence. Our frustration is coming from not scoring.”
Each member of Portland’s top line — Rattie, Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan — had a goal, as did defenceman Seth Jones, who is likely to be the No. 1 selection in June’s NHL draft.
“Mac’s been a rock for us,’’ Leipsic said. “They’ve got a lot of good offensive guys, and we’ve kind of kept them quiet for the first two games. We’re looking forward to doing that up in Kamloops.’’
Charron pointed out that “we have players who aren’t playing to their potential, and to beat a team like the Winterhawks, everyone has to be pulling the load.“
Having said that, he knows that Kamloops’ top-end players have to be better.
“With all the experience I've had in hockey,” he said, “when you look at the success of teams you have to look at your best players. Their best players are on the scoresheet every night. For us, our big guns haven't showed up on the scoresheet yet and it's going to be difficult until they get going.”
Jones opened the scoring, carrying the puck into the Kamloops zone and putting a wrap-around in behind goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
“His goal was big-time,’’ Travis Green, Portland’s interim general manager and head coach, said. “I say it a lot, but when you get this far in the playoffs you need your best players to be your best players.’’
The Blazers also aren’t getting any help from a power play that has dried up.
“We're 0-for-10 on the power play,” said Charron, whose club was 0-for-5 in each game. “We have to find a way to generate more and get some momentum from the power play.”
On Saturday, the Winterhawks were 2-for-8 on the power play, and are 3-for-11 in the two games.
“I thought our discipline tonight needed to be better,” Charron stated. “They have a good power play; they scored two goals tonight. (Friday) night, they had a goal. All their power-play goals have been important for the success of their team.
“We didn't generate anything from our power play. It's a good hockey team we're playing and they work very hard. I could sense there was some frustration from our team as the game went on. But we have to realize that it's going to come from hard work and from hopefully scoring some goals.”
The Blazers no doubt will gain some comfort from the fact they are returning home to the ISC, where they were 27-7-2 in the regular season and are 4-1 in the playoffs.
“There should be comfort of playing in our building,” Charron said, “but we have to find a way to sustain pressure. It's way too easy for them in transition. We haven't been able to neutralize that at all. We're not supporting the puck as well as we should. We're playing too much on the perimeter.”
Ranford said he and his teammates are excited about going back home.
“Our fans are the best in the league for us and they support us all the time,” he said. “They've been with us through thick and thin through years where we didn't make the playoffs. I think it's been 14 years since making the conference finals the last time and they're going to be buzzing. We have to live off the energy like Portland did here.
“We're going back home and we're going to win those games if we work hard. We have to stop getting outworked, and that's been what's happening.”
Like Game 1, the second game featured some late-game silliness, something Ranford said comes with the territory.
“It's a playoff series,” he said. “Both teams are competing hard for the conference title. Emotions get high and things happen, but we can't get undisciplined like we have been. The stuff at the end of the game, we're not trying to intimidate or anything, we just don't want to quit.”
The Winterhawks say they don’t mind if the Blazers want to try and stir things up.
“They’ve got a few guys that are kind of running around a little bit trying to get you into penalties,’’ Leipsic said. “I like the way our guys kept their composure at the end. We kind of let them take the dumb penalties.’’
Green doesn’t know what will happen in Kamloops; he just expects to see more from the Blazers.
“I don’t know if they’ll play a lot better or be any different, obviously that’s up to them,’’ he said. “But with them being down two, we’ll probably see their best game.’’
JUST NOTES: Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave stopped 30 shots. . . . A year ago, when the Winterhawks ousted the Blazers from a second-round series in seven games, Portland won the first two at home, 5-3 and 4-1. . . . For Game 2, the Blazers inserted D Jordan Thomson and F Devin Oakes into their lineup, while taking out D Ryan Rehill and F Josh Connolly. . . . The Winterhawks added F Joe Mahon and F Dominic Turgeon, while taking out F Paul Bittner and F Keegan Iverson. . . . In something of a twist, three Portland players — Jones, D Derrick Pouliot and F Adam De Champlain — were seen signing autographs while serving penalties during Game 2.
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